On 23 September, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled the UK Government’s prospective Growth plan aiming to reduce the cost of energy bills, at an expected cost of £31 billion over its first six months.
One of the primary inclusions, which has seen a positive response from the energy industry, is the return of support incentives for the development of onshore wind – one of the cleanest and cheapest methods of generating green energy.
“The government will unlock the potential of onshore wind by bringing consenting in line with other infrastructure,” the plan said.
“The UK is a world-leader in offshore wind, with 8GW of offshore wind currently under construction. By 2023 the government is set to increase renewables capacity by 15%, supporting the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”
Despite being one of the cheapest methods of generating clean energy, onshore wind has been hampered over the last decade by planning constraints amounting to an effective ban.
The inclusion of support measures for onshore wind has been welcomed by the energy sector and could be a major development in spearheading the green revolution in the UK. It could also be pivotal in gaining energy independence and reducing the cost of energy bills.
“This is a huge step which will unleash the power of British onshore wind energy, reducing bills for all. Octopus Energy will act fast to bring wind farms and lower bills to areas where communities want them,” said Greg Jackson, CEO and founder of Octopus Energy.
“Onshore wind is cheap and incredibly popular with Brits – more than 13,000 people have asked us for a wind farm in their area. But unnecessary red tape has meant it has taken on average seven years to build and connect a new onshore wind farm. In reality, they can be built in months.
“By putting onshore wind on the same playing field as other technologies, we can turbocharge our transition to net zero, increase the UK’s energy security, and wean ourselves off expensive gas for good.”
As indicated by Jackson, the need to wean the UK off wholesale gas is crucial to both gain energy independence and reduce the cost of energy bills for consumers. It could also be used as a force to drive the renewable sector in the UK and complement existing technologies.
The pipeline of onshore wind projects has increased by 4GW over the last year, according to recent research from RenewableUK, growing from 33GW in October 2021 to 37GW. The vast majority of these – around 78% – are situated in Scotland, where planning consent has been more favourable than in England.
“It is unclear why the government has chosen not to award any fanfare to lifting the ban on popular, cheap and green onshore wind, especially when lifting the ban on unpopular, expensive and environmentally unsound fracking has been much heralded,” said Nigel Pocklington, CEO of renewable energy supplier Good Energy.
“Too many years have been wasted by the effective block on the provision of this clean and green energy source which would have reduced our reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels. We hope this new announcement will lead to a rapid roll-out of more wind farms in the UK, bringing energy bills down whilst driving our transition to net zero.”
RenewableUK has also stated the price of offshore wind has fallen by around 70% since 2015, making it the lowest cost large-scale power source available in the UK, and industry has long identified planning and grid issues as major obstacles to speedier development.
Granting more support in England could unlock a vital driver of the energy transition and support net zero goals and in turn make onshore wind significantly cheaper.
“Removing the block on onshore wind in England means we can generate significantly more cheap electricity for hard-pressed billpayers in areas where projects have local support. Once projects have planning permission they can be up and running within a year, so this technology offers us a great opportunity to tackle the cost of energy crisis,” said RenewableUK’s CEO Dan McGrail.
“Speeding up the planning process for offshore wind is vital too, as it will allow us to unlock an enormous amount of new capacity much faster and help us to meet the Government’s target of quadrupling our offshore wind capacity by 2030.
“It will also help us to meet the Prime Minister’s vision of the UK becoming a net energy exporter by 2040. At the moment it can take up to 10 years to get a project over all the hurdles. We can’t afford these glacial timescales any longer, especially as offshore wind has now reached a point where it’s even cheaper to build than onshore wind.”
McGrail also believes one area that needs further support to boost the renewable sector and accelerate the adoption of new projects is grid connections.
“It’s also vital that we speed up grid connections, as some offshore wind farms are being given connection dates which are 10 years into the future,” he said.
“Alongside the changes announced today, we’re urging Ofgem and National Grid to accelerate grid reform, as one of the most important steps towards decarbonising our power system in the years ahead.”
These calls are already being addressed by National Grid ESO which has a new approach to connection management, aiming to remove stalled projects from the transmission entry capacity (TEC) register allowing new projects to be connected to the national electricity transmission network quicker.
David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association (ENA), believes that the Growth Plan not only incentivises the return of onshore wind generation, but other key, low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen.
A number of infrastructure projects had been identified as priorities within the Growth Plan, in terms of the green energy transition, this includes seven offshore wind projects, the Local EV Infrastructure Fund, the Rapid Charging Fund, and a range of nuclear, oil and gas, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
“Legislation to remove unnecessary barriers to the creation of essential energy infrastructure is a pragmatic step in the right direction, provided it doesn’t delay existing vital policy already in the works,” Smith said.
“The news from government today could accelerate the role renewables and hydrogen can play in the country’s transition to net zero and help speed the creation of a smarter, more resilient energy network.”